The pros and cons of home schooling
by Sholain Govender
(January 2006)

"If you want your child to become a convict or a conscript, then send them to a formal school."

These words come from home schooling and education expert Leendert van Oostrum, who helps South African families exercise their right to teach their children at home.

Home schooling may be emerging as a new trend in education as more South Africa parents choose to keep their children in safe environments.

Van Oostrum says the formal school system in which children are separated by age and treated according to peer group has a negative impact on the development of their personalities and skills.

He says this, in theory, prepares them for one of two environments: prison or the army.

"The only two jobs or places where people in modern society are forced to do the same things and behave alike is as a soldier in the army or in a jail," said Van Oostrum.

"The three major benefits of home schooling is: better quality of education, an environment conducive to that individual family's philosophies and a social environment free of negative influences like drugs," said Van Oostrum.

The Gauteng department of education has recorded a total of 544 registered home education pupils from 2004 to date with 18 new applications for 2006.

But there is no way of knowing how many pupils are being taught at home as it is no longer legally necessary to register a child who is being schooled at home.

Home schooling was made legal by the Schools Act of 1996. It is believed that there thousands of children being taught at home.

"A rough estimate of the number of home-schooling families in the country would be 100 000, but the growth rate in home education is big."

Organisations like Pretoria-based legal organisation Pestalozzi, which is run by Van Oostrum, are the main support structures for home-schooling families under the umbrella of the Home Schooling Association of South Africa.

"My organisation helps parents who wish to teach their children at home and register through the provincial education department to comply with the law, but at present it is perfectly legal to teach a child at home without having to register," said Van Oostrum.

The department's education and training director Tidimalo Nkotoe said: "Home education is a form of an alternative education provision outlined in the National Education Policy Act."

According to Nkotoe, it is compulsory for parents of children of a school-going age to register their children for home schooling.

Registration or application forms, available from department offices, must have copies of relevant identity documents attached as well as an outline of each pupil's curriculum.

Applications must also include supporting arguments as to why home education would be best for that child.

According to Nkotoe, the advantages of home schooling include more individualised attention, more responsibility for parents and less financial burden for the government.

She lists limited socialisation, lack of exposure and non-compliance with policy by parents as some of the disadvantages of the system.

Elsabe Swanepoel, a qualified counsellor and education psychologist, said home schooling limited interaction with members of the child's peer group, which could be detrimental to the development of that child.

"If a parent is home schooling their child, I would advise them to arrange activities for their children with other children of their own age," said Swanepoel.

Organisations like Pestalozzi organise workshops for parents who want to learn about home schooling and also host events for children who are taught at home.

With more and more families raising their children in a home schooling environment and already interacting with around 80 other home pupils in Pretoria, there is no doubt that these families find home education more beneficial than days spent at a school.

"It's a small, diverse group of people who are working towards a common goal," said Van Oostrum.